Export file:


  • RIS(for EndNote,Reference Manager,ProCite)
  • BibTex
  • Text


  • Citation Only
  • Citation and Abstract

Resourcefulness, Desperation, Shame, Gratitude and Powerlessness: Common Themes Emerging from A Study of Food Bank Use in Northeast Scotland

1 Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, Scotland;
2 Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Special Issues: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention among Most Vulnerable Populations

There is growing policy maker and public concern about current trends in food bank use in Scotland. Yet little is known about the experiences of those seeking help from food banks in this country. This research aimed to address this issue by studying the use and operation of a food bank situated in a rich northeast city during January and June 2014. The study aimed to establish who was seeking help from the food bank, their reasons for doing so, and what those who did thought of, and dealt with the food they received from it. Consequently, an audit of the food bank's client database, four months of participant observation based in the food bank, and seven face-to-face interviews with current and former food bank clients were conducted. The audit revealed that clients came from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, with men more likely to access it compared to women. Debt and social security benefit delays were cited as the main reasons for doing so. Qualitative data confirmed that sudden and unanticipated loss of income was a key driver of use. Resourcefulness in making donated food last as long as possible, keeping fuel costs low, and concern to minimise food waste were commonly described by participants. Desperation, gratitude, shame and powerlessness were also prevalent themes. Furthermore, clients were reluctant to ask for food they normally ate, as they were acutely aware that the food bank had little control over what it was able offer. Insights from this study suggest that recent UK policy proposals to address food poverty may have limited impact, without concomitant effort to address material disadvantage. Research is urgently required to determine the precise nature and extent of household level food insecurity in Scotland, and to consider monitoring for adverse physical and mental health outcomes for those affected by it.
  Article Metrics

Keywords food poverty; food banks; deprivation; Scotland; nutrition; mental well-being; policymaking; qualitative research; mixed methods

Citation: Flora Douglas, Jennifer Sapko, Kirsty Kiezebrink, Janet Kyle. Resourcefulness, Desperation, Shame, Gratitude and Powerlessness: Common Themes Emerging from A Study of Food Bank Use in Northeast Scotland. AIMS Public Health , 2015, 2(3): 297-317. doi: 10.3934/publichealth.2015.3.297


  • 1. Cooper N, Purcell S, Jackson R (2011) Below the breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain. Oxfam. Available from: www.oxfam.org.uk/policyandpractice.
  • 2. Hansard UK Government. Hansard Report of House of Commons Food Banks Debate 18th December (2013) Available from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131218/debtext/131218-0003.htm. 2013 18th December.
  • 3. Ashton JR, Middleton J, Lang T (2014) Open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on food poverty in the UK. Lancet 383:1631.    
  • 4. Duggan E, (2014) The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat - and benefit reforms may be to blame. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/churches-unite-to-act-on-food-poverty-600-leaders-from-all-denominations-demand-government-uturn-on-punitive-benefits-sanctions-9263035.html. Accessed June 22nd, 2104.
  • 5. Sosenko F, Livingstone N, Fitzpatrick S (2013) Overview of food aid provision in Scotland. Scottish Government Social Research Series. Available from: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0044/00440458.pdf
  • 6. Lambie-Mumford H, Crossley D, Jensen E, et al. (2014) Household food security in the UK: A review of food aid. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283071/household-food-security-uk-140219.
  • 7. Dowler E, Lambie-Mumford H (2015) How can households eat in austerity? Challenges for social policy in the UK. Soc Policy and Soc 14: 417-428.
  • 8. Tarasuk V, Dachner N, Hamelin A, et al. (2014) A survey of food bank operations in five Canadian cities. BMC Public Health 14:1234.    
  • 9. All Party Parliamentary Group (2014) Feeding Britain: A strategy for zero hunger in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Available from: http://www.ukhealthforum.org.uk/prevention/pie/?entryid43=39390
  • 10. Lambie-Mumford H (2014) The right to food and the rise of charitable emergency food provision in the United Kingdom. [PhD Thesis] University of Sheffield.
  • 11. Taylor-Robinson D, Rougeaux E, Harrison D, et al. (2013) The rise of food poverty in the UK. BMJ 347.
  • 12. Lambie-Mumford H, Dowler E (2014) Rising use of “food aid” in the United Kingdom. Br Food J 116: 1418-1425.    
  • 13. Dowler L, Lambie-Mumford H (2014) Food aid: Living with food insecurity. Communities and Culture Netork Rep.Available at: http://www.communitiesandculture.org/files/2013/01/Living-with-Food-Insecurity-CCN-Report.pdf
  • 14. Lambie-Mumford H (2012) Regeneration and food poverty in the United Kingdom: learning from the New Deal for Communities programme. Comm Dev J November 11. doi: 10.1093/cdj/bss055
  • 15. Riches G, Tarasuk V (2014) Canada: Thirty years of food charity and public policy neglect. In: Riches G, Silvasti T, editors. First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food? 2nd ed. Houndsmills Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; 104. pp. 42-56.
  • 16. Dowler EA, O'Connor D (2012) Rights-based approaches to addressing food poverty and food insecurity in Ireland and UK. Soc Sci Med 74: 44-51.    
  • 17. Scottish Government. Guidance on the definition of SIMD quintiles. 13th October 2013; Available from: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/SIMD/GuidanceAnal/SIMDquintiles. Accessed 13th April, 2015.
  • 18. Strauss A, Corbin J (1998) Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  • 19. Mason J (2002) Observing and participating. In Qual Res.1st ed. London: Sage , 84-102.
  • 20. Freimuth V, Mettger W (1990) Is there a hard to reach audience? Public Health Rep 105: 232-238.
  • 21. Brackertz N (2007) Who is hard to reach and why? ISR working paper. Melbourne, Australia: Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology.
  • 22. Ritchie J, Lewis J (2003) Qualitative Research Practice. 1st ed; London: Sage.
  • 23. Loopstra R, Reeves A, Taylor-Robinson D, et al. (2015) Austerity, sanctions and the rise of food banks in the UK. BMJ 350. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1775
  • 24. McEnhill L, Byrne V (2014) ‘Beat the cheat': portrayals of disability benefit claimants in print media. J Poverty Soc Justice 22: 99-110.    
  • 25. Dowler E (2014) Food banks and food justice in ‘Austerity Britain'. In: Riches G, Silvasti T, editors. First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food? 2nd ed. Houndsmills: Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan pp. 160-175.
  • 26. Parry J, Williams M, Sefton T, et al. (2014) Emergency use only: Understanding and reducing the use of food bank in the UK. Child Poverty Action Group. Available from: http://www.trusselltrust.org/resources/documents/press/foodbank-report.pdf
  • 27. Poppendieck J (1999) Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement. New York: Penguin.
  • 28. Dobson B, Beardsworth A, Keil T, et al. (1994) Diet, choice, and poverty: Social, cultural, and nutritional aspects of food consumption among low-income families. Loughborough: Family Pol Studies Centre.
  • 29. Goode J (2012) Feeding the family when the wolf's at the door: the impact of over-indebtedness on contemporary foodways in low-income families in the UK. Food and Foodways 20: 8-30.    
  • 30. Dowler E (1997) Budgeting for food on a low income in the UK: the case of lone-parent families. Food Pol 22: 405-417.    
  • 31. Attree P (2005) Low‐income mothers, nutrition and health: a systematic review of qualitative evidence. Matern Child Nutr 1: 227-240.    
  • 32. Glasgow Centre for Population Health. Understanding Glasgow: The Glasgow Indicators Project: Food banks. Available from: http://www.understandingglasgow.com/indicators/poverty/food_banks. Accessed 21st March, 2015.
  • 33. Tarasuk V (2001) A critical examination of community-based responses to household food insecurity in Canada. Health Educ Behav 28: 487-499.    
  • 34. Harden J, Dickson A (2014) Low-income mothers' food practices with young children: A qualitative longitudinal study. Health Educ J June 04: 1-11 doi: 10.1177/0017896914535378
  • 35. Hamelin AM, Mercier C, Bedard A (2010) Discrepancies in households and other stakeholders viewpoints on the food security experience: a gap to address. Health Educ Res 2: 401-412.
  • 36. Hamelin A, Mercier C, Bédard A (2011) Needs for food security from the standpoint of Canadian households participating and not participating in community food programmes. Int J Consumer Studies 35: 58-68.    
  • 37. Innovation Unit: Better Food Wirral (2014) How can we change the local food system for a happier and healthier Wirral? Available from: http://info.wirral.nhs.uk/document_uploads/BetterFoodWirral/Wirral_Research_Report.pdf
  • 38. Bauman Z ( 2013) Consuming Life. Cambridge: John Wiley & Sons.
  • 39. Van der Horst H, Pascucci S, Bol W (2014) The “dark side” of food banks? Exploring emotional responses of food bank receivers in the Netherlands. Br Food J 116: 1506-1520.
  • 40. Wilkinson R, Pickett KE (2009) The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. 1st ed. London: Allen Lane.
  • 41. Sapko J (2014) Pathways to Food: Accessing and using the Aberdeen Food Bank Service led by CFINE. [Master's Thesis] University of Aberdeen.
  • 42. Garthwaite K, Collins P, Bambra C (2015) Food for thought: An ethnographic study of negotiating ill health and food insecurity in a UK foodbank. Soc Sci Med 132: 38-44.    
  • 43. Kent G (2005) Freedom from Want. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
  • 44. The Observer (2015) The Observer view on the Queen's speech: Observer editorial.
  • Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/31/observer-editorial-queens-speech-one-nation-divided-britain. Accessed June, 8th, 2015.
  • 45. Slater T (2014) The myth of “Broken Britain”: welfare reform and the production of ignorance. Antipode 46: 948-969.
  • 46. Chilton M, Rose D (2009) A rights-based approach to food insecurity in the United States. Am J Public Health 99: 1203-1211.    
  • 47. Mann JM, Gostin L, Gruskin S, et al. Health and human rights. Health Hum Rights 1994: 6-23.
  • 48. Lambie-Mumford H (2015) Addressing food poverty in the UK: Charity, rights and welfare. SPERI Paper No 18. Sheffield: Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. University of Sheffield.
  • 49. Irwin JD, Ng VK, Rush TJ, et al. (2007) Can food banks sustain nutrient requirements? A case study in Southwestern Ontario. Can J Public Health 98: 17-20.
  • 50. Gany F, Bari S, Crist M, et al. (2013) Food insecurity: Limitations of emergency food resources for our patients. J Urban Health 90: 552-558.    
  • 51. Ross M, Campbell EC, Webb KL (2013) Recent trends in the nutritional quality of food banks' food and beverage inventory: Case studies of six California food banks. J Hunger Env Nut 8: 294-309.    
  • 52. Poppendieck J (1994) Dilemmas of emergency food: A guide for the perplexed. Agr Hum Val 11: 69-76.    
  • 53. Silvasti T, Riches G (2014) Hunger and food charity in rich societies: What hope for the right to food? First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity Or the Right to Food?:191.


This article has been cited by

  • 1. J. S. Gunson, M. Warin, V. Moore, Visceral politics: obesity and children’s embodied experiences of food and hunger, Critical Public Health, 2016, 1, 10.1080/09581596.2016.1234709
  • 2. Clare Pettinger, Julie M Parsons, Miranda Cunningham, Lyndsey Withers, Gia D’Aprano, Gayle Letherby, Carole Sutton, Andrew Whiteford, Richard Ayres, Engaging homeless individuals in discussion about their food experiences to optimise wellbeing: A pilot study, Health Education Journal, 2017, 001789691770515, 10.1177/0017896917705159
  • 3. Karolina Gombert, Flora Douglas, Sandra Carlisle, Karen McArdle, A Capabilities Approach to Food Choices, Food Ethics, 2017, 10.1007/s41055-017-0013-5
  • 4. Benjamin Wills, Eating at the limits: Barriers to the emergence of social enterprise initiatives in the Australian emergency food relief sector, Food Policy, 2017, 70, 62, 10.1016/j.foodpol.2017.06.001
  • 5. Elisabeth Garratt, Please sir, I want some more: an exploration of repeat foodbank use, BMC Public Health, 2017, 17, 1, 10.1186/s12889-017-4847-x
  • 6. Flora Douglas, Fiona MacKenzie, Ourega-Zoé Ejebu, Stephen Whybrow, Ada L. Garcia, Lynda McKenzie, Anne Ludbrook, Elizabeth Dowler, “A Lot of People Are Struggling Privately. They Don’t Know Where to Go or They’re Not Sure of What to Do”: Frontline Service Provider Perspectives of the Nature of Household Food Insecurity in Scotland, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018, 15, 12, 2738, 10.3390/ijerph15122738
  • 7. Ourega-Zoé Ejebu, Stephen Whybrow, Lynda Mckenzie, Elizabeth Dowler, Ada Garcia, Anne Ludbrook, Karen Barton, Wendy Wrieden, Flora Douglas, What can Secondary Data Tell Us about Household Food Insecurity in a High-Income Country Context?, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018, 16, 1, 82, 10.3390/ijerph16010082
  • 8. Kingsley Purdam, Aneez Esmail, Elisabeth Garratt, Food insecurity amongst older people in the UK, British Food Journal, 2019, 10.1108/BFJ-05-2018-0301
  • 9. Megan Warin, Tanya Zivkovic, , Fatness, Obesity, and Disadvantage in the Australian Suburbs, 2019, Chapter 7, 175, 10.1007/978-3-030-01009-6_7
  • 10. Jon May, Andrew Williams, Paul Cloke, Liev Cherry, Welfare Convergence, Bureaucracy, and Moral Distancing at the Food Bank, Antipode, 2019, 10.1111/anti.12531
  • 11. Flora Douglas, Kathryn Machray, Vikki Entwistle, Health professionals’ experiences and perspectives on food insecurity and long‐term conditions: A qualitative investigation, Health & Social Care in the Community, 2019, 10.1111/hsc.12872
  • 12. Ayaka Nomura, The shift of food value through food banks: a case study in Kyoto, Japan, Evolutionary and Institutional Economics Review, 2019, 10.1007/s40844-019-00154-0
  • 13. Kate Harrison, Can’t, Won’t and What’s the Point? A Theory of the UK Public’s Muted Response to Austerity, Representation, 2020, 1, 10.1080/00344893.2020.1728367
  • 14. Aganeta Enns, Anita Rizvi, Stéphanie Quinn, Elizabeth Kristjansson, Experiences of Food Bank Access and Food Insecurity in Ottawa, Canada, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 2020, 1, 10.1080/19320248.2020.1761502
  • 15. Flora Douglas, Emma MacIver, Chris Yuill, A qualitative investigation of lived experiences of long-term health condition management with people who are food insecure, BMC Public Health, 2020, 20, 1, 10.1186/s12889-020-09299-9

Reader Comments

your name: *   your email: *  

Copyright Info: 2015, Flora Douglas, et al., licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

Download full text in PDF

Export Citation

Copyright © AIMS Press All Rights Reserved